1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England.
1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic instances of mental health increased as over half of adults and two thirds of young people said they were struggling with depression or anxiety.
According to MIND UK, two of the most common coping strategies are:
- Over or undereating
- Increasing alcohol consumption
If anyone is struggling with their mental health, it is important to reach out to a trained mental health professional to identify the root cause of their problems.
Did you know your gut also plays a role in mental health?
Our gut needs to have a wide range of diverse bacteria to be able to keep our bodies running efficiently. When we lack diversity in our gut, it becomes easier for ‘bad bacteria’ to potentially over grow. When this happens, it is called ‘dysbiosis’.
Dysbiosis leads to a range of symptoms, the main one being inflammation. When our guts lining becomes inflamed over a long period of time, we become more susceptible to illness and studies have shown and increased chance of depression and anxiety. Studies have also shown that the gut microbiome in people with depression is significantly different to those of healthy individuals.
How is inflammation linked mental illness?
Inflammation can be linked to mental illness by a number of mechanisms including;
- A disruption of the gut-brain-axis
- Increase in inflammatory messengers sent to the brain affecting healthy function
- Faulty absorption of vitamins and minerals crucial for our brain health
- Impaired ability to create hormones vital to our happiness
What can cause gut inflammation?
There are various reasons we may experience inflammation in our guts, one of the most common reasons is due to an imbalance in our microbiome where bad bacteria have overgrown.
This can be caused by a number of reasons including –
- Alcohol consumption
- A diet high in heavily processed foods
- Food intolerances
- High intake of sugary food
- Antibiotic use
- Disturbance to your gut e.g. food poisoning
The gut and serotonin levels
What is serotonin?
Serotonin is a key hormone in regulating our mood, feeling of wellbeing and overall happiness. Not only this but serotonin plays important roles in sleeping and digestion too. If our serotonin levels aren’t optimal then it can have negative effects on our health. Commonly this is seen through anxiety and depression.
Up to 95% of serotonin is produced within our gut. That’s pretty much the majority of it. So, if our gut is not functioning well, if it is inflamed and suffering dysbiosis then the production level drops. When the production level drops, we start to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. Of course, this may not be the main cause of our problems, it is however a contributing factor. For optimal production of serotonin, we need a balanced microbiome.
How can we manage levels of inflammation in the gut to best support our mental health?
1. Eat foods that are beneficial to the growth and maintenance of our friendly bacteria. This includes:
Eating a rainbow, make sure you have a variety of colours in your diet as each food provides a different source of vitamins, minerals and polyphenols
Eating high fibre foods like wholemeal breads and pastas, brown rice, quinoa, oats, nuts and seeds, and fruit and vegetables
Eating probiotic foods like yoghurts, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and miso
2. Monitor our alcohol and smoking intake. It is important to be aware of the detrimental effects these toxins have on our physical and mental health. Both of these substances kill off friendly bacteria in our guts and allow over production of harmful bacteria leading to inflammation.
3. Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Whilst we wouldn’t usually advocate completely cutting out a certain food group, eating too much high-sugar and high-fat foods can affect the balance of our gut microbiome and encourage the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Making sure you’re eating a range of different foods and food groups for optimal gut health.
4. Take a friendly bacteria supplement daily. This significantly increases the number of friendly bacteria that reside in your gut which can result in a number of benefits. By increasing the number of friendly bacteria in your gut they can work to prevent inflammation and create a hospitable environment for even more friendly bacteria to flourish.
Taking a friendly bacteria supplement (alongside other relevant treatments) and following a well-balanced diet can be hugely beneficially to our mental health. Although it may not be the root cause of impact on our mental health it can help support a healthy and happy mind. By making sure our gut is happy and healthy we can eliminate it as a contributing factor and allow it to play its part in helping us to feel better.
If you'd like to learn more about supporting your gut health, why not book a free 1:1 consultation with our nutrition team? We can recommend diet and lifestyle changes that can make a big difference. To book, simply click here.